Wings on his Feet, Steel in his Heart
Rahul Gandhi is today a man with wings on his feet, smile on his face and steel in his heart. There is no doubt about the stupendous task he has undertaken – of reaching out to the common people, taking along the leaders of all sections of society and simultaneously galvanizing his own fragmented party. He is going about it in a systematic manner that shows seriousness of purpose and commitment. The common people are flocking to the Yatra. The four-lakh strong crowd at Shegaon was not just people carted to the spot by Congress netas. I know because I was there with friends and we met people who had travelled from far and wide to attend the rally.
Congress should deal with its Weakest Links
Rahul Gandhi is doing his part of the job of reaching out and common people are doing their part of offering unstinted support. Between Rahul and the common voter lie the kamzor kadis the weakest links of the Congress Party – the local leaders and office bearers. The problems with the middle are endless – internal disputes, nepotism, corruption, lethargy and an unseemly readiness to join the opposition. During the Yatra the netas were forced to set their differences aside but are the squabbles in every district, galli and mohalla going to dissipate? Every now and then disturbing news comes up about Congress leaders on the verge of joining the opposition – whether it is Ashok Chavan, Balu Dhanorkar, Vijay Wadettiwar or someone else other. Congress will have to find a way of scuttling these ‘rumours’. If the Congress Party is able to tighten its structure and disciple the middle-men, there is bound to be better results in 2024. Right now most people who have a newfound affection for Rahul don’t have kind words for their local Congress neta and with good cause for their dislike.
Kudos to Pratibha Shinde!
The liberal section of the civil society in Maharashtra offered strong and vocal support to the Bharat Jodo Yatra. Many of them met Rahul on different days and discussed various issues facing the state and the country. Bharat Jodo Yatra’s Maharashtra phase ended at Jalgaon Jamod on the 20th with a massive public rally of Adivasi – Kashtakari Women. This is the only programme held during the Yatra so far which was organized by a Civil Society Organisation (CSO). Pratibha Shinde and Lok Sangharsh Morcha should be commended for their efforts which brought the issues of Adivasi and peasants to the fore in such a powerful manner. Pratibha Shinde, a veteran of the Kisan Andolan and many other social campaigns, was at the forefront in mobilizing the civil society in Maharashtra. She was a member of the committee which co-ordinated the working between the CSO and the Congress Party and involved in the Bharat Jodo Yatra since the very first day when it started out from Kanyakumari. The rally at Jalgaon Jamod showed her independent, substantive mass base which extends to Khandesh, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. Her fierce leadership, mass base and extensive network should make her valuable for the Congress party. She is a grassroots leader on her own right and one whose next steps should be watched keenly.
Some Vignettes from the Walk
18th November. 4:30 a.m. People in jackets and woolen caps stood chatting in the dim light, drinking tea. The entire stretch of Balapur – Shegaon road was dotted with groups of people. Some of them were waiting to join the walk, others to catch a glimpse of Rahul Gandhi.
The police barricade was five kilometres away from the Zilla Parishad school which was the starting point of the Yatra that day. People left their vehicles and started to walk, jog and run to reach the start point before 6 o’clock. The general talk was, ‘Rahulji starts walking sharp at 6.’ Slow walkers stopped mid-way. ‘Bharat Jodo, Bharat jodo’ – strangers wished each other.
‘Where are you from?’
‘Since when are you walking?’
‘I think I will go till Indore. Then I will take a train back home.’
‘Okay, great going!
‘Bahut achcha laga milkar.’
A man stood with a statue of Viththal – Rakhumai balanced on his head. All the way from Satara. Another had carried a Kolhapuri turban. I had carried a portrait of Rashtrasant Tukdoji Maharaj. A man from Rajasthan stopped to ask about the portrait. We had a conversation about Sant parampara in Rajasthan and Vidarbha.
We saw some movement of vans and buses. A band passed by playing a lively tune. The players were turned out in smart white uniforms and the sash across their shoulders read ‘Youth Congress’. There were volunteers of several Congress wings along the way – the NSUI, the Mahila Congress, the Youth Congress.
At one point a small group hurried past shouting slogans. Nafrat Chhodo – Bharat Jodo. It was still dark so it was difficult to make out the faces, but we learnt it was Yogendra Yadav and his group of civil society colleagues.
As day broke we heard the first sirens of the pilot vehicle. And soon there was a flurry of activity. People rushed to either side of the road. There were hundreds lining the road even in that early hour – men, women and children. There were old people, people in wheelchairs. A child cradling a puppy in his hands. Then the vehicles came quite fast. First a posse of police holding the rope that formed the security circle. They tried to push back the curious public. Then Rahul Gandhi came walking fast accompanied by Congress office-bearers and leaders. Behind him one could see massive tricolours. He was smiling and waving. On either side of the road people were running to keep up with his speed. I was pushed aside by the crowd that rushed by.
After the Yatra had rushed ahead the rest of us walked along at our pace. There were stalls along the way set up by local Congress supporter. You could eat poha, bananas and apples and drink sweet tea to your heart’s content, take as long as you want, meet more people and continue the political discussions even as you walked.
The entire stretch was decorated with hoardings, flags, cut-outs. Balloons with faces of Congress leaders floated in the sky. There were a group of Adivasi dancers in horned turbans and drums dancing on stilts. The atmosphere was quite festive.
At one point we got into the car, travelled 10 kms ahead of the Yatra on a highway and waited with the crowds on the wayside. One young lady in a pink T-shirt declared excitedly, “I have a crush on him. I just have such a huge crush on him.” Her companion repeated with a smile, “She has a huge crush on him.” It was obvious that many shared her fantasy – that they would be on the sidelines waving and shouting as Rahul Gandhi walked past. They would shout out his name and Rahul Gandhi would indicate that he wanted them inside the security ring. Then Rahul Gandhi would hug them or hold their hand while they shared their deepest anxieties or discussed their unique solution to climate change. For most people this would remain an unfulfilled dream. But I am happy to report that our Pink T-Shirt Young Lady was one those for whom the dream became reality. She did get to meet her crush.
- Paromita Goswami